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Darth Vader, Sans Cape and Helmet, Looks Like a Leather Gimp Slave From the Local Goth Club

What’s this? A beat-up old Star Wars toy

Why is it cool? It’s the large-size model (15″), not as common as the small figurines, and because of missing pieces it looks more like C3P0’s dad than Luke’s.

What’s the story? In 1977, people had no idea what a massive mark Star Wars would leave on their generation. Sci-fi was a bit of a niche area in film, and the concept of a summer blockbuster didn’t even exist yet. But the movie’s small, 32-theater opening created a massive buzz, and led to a nationwide unrolling. Crowds of people lined up to spend a couple hours in a galaxy far, far away — a tradition they’ve been doing at every theatrical release of the franchise ever since.

They also monetized every possible aspect of the film. Lunch boxes, pillowcases, storybook records, and toys. There’s no one alive today who isn’t familiar with the standard 3.75″ Star Wars figures. But when the movie came out, they made various other types of figures — including a ~12″ figure (the height varied depending on the character) that matched pretty closely with Barbie dolls in size and lack of articulation. All the major players were made — Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Storm Troopers, etc.

I was doing some Star Wars-related research based on my Gizmodo article (How To Make Ice Cubes Shaped Like Tiny Baby Heads) and found a Craigslist posting for this partially complete Darth Vader doll from 1978. Sans cape and top of mask, the tyrant has a less imposing look.

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17 Photos From Caine’s Arcade, his Cardboard Games and his $150,000 Cardboard Check

What is this? A genius-level DIY game arcade that will make you start hoarding cardboard boxes

Who made it? Nine year old Caine Monroy from East LA

Awesome element: The brilliance of the Fun Pass — a representation of a child’s game-play dreams, and a shrewd business move all in one.

What’s the story? Caine Monroy is a nine year old with a passion for carnival-style games so deep that he built his own arcade using the resources around him: cardboard boxes from his dad’s used auto parts business. Set in a tougher part of Los Angeles, his fully-operational/fully-adorable arcade got no customers until the day Nirvan Mullick stopped by while looking for a car part and spotted the genius that this kid radiates. Nirvan subsequently produced a 10 minute documentary about Caine and  his arcade, and built a website to help raise funds for Caine’s college tuition fund. A very warmly told tale, the story made the news on every major outlet by the end fo the week it was launched. I highly recommend you watch his video if you haven’t yet.

The scenes in the video looked familiar to me, and for good reason — it turns out that Caine’s Arcade is seven miles from where I live, on a street I’ve cut through various times as a shortcut to Union Station. The arcade is only open on the weekends (don’t forget, Caine is in school), so I headed there on the Saturday after the film was released. Here are my photos and notes from that experience.

It seemed that everyone in LA (and even some from over 7 hours away) had come to check out the cleverly devised arcade. Downside: no parking -- we found a spot a few blocks away and hiked to the store, crossing the intersection of Interstates 10 and 101.
The line of people waiting in front of "Smart Parts," Caine's dad's used auto parts store.

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DIY Motorized Router Table Lift Mechanism and Two Other Innovative Router Tables

A router is a versatile and useful tool, although a pretty crazy one too. It’s a compact, high-powered motor that holds a narrow cylindrical blade (“bit”), spinning at ultra-high speeds with massive force. Routers are used for ornamental design work (look at the recessed borders cut into your cabinet doors — that’s routed) and cutting material. A variety of bit shapes allow for different contours of cuts — straight, angled, curved, curved with a protruding angle, etc.

Most commonly, routers are handheld with the bit extending downwards into the material being carved out. They’re guided over a piece of material to make freehand cuts, or with a guide to help ensure straight lines. The gyroscopic effect makes them a bit funky to control, and the power of the motor can send some serious fragments flying — including the router or user if things get hung up.

Sometimes, however, the router will be flipped upside-down and mounted underneath a table, with the bit extending upwards — combined like this, it’s called a router table. Keeping the router stable and moving just the material allows for more precise control of the cuts, especially if combined with a fence to guide straight movement.

One downside of the router table setup is that the router controls are not as accessible once placed in a cabinet space under the work surface — this is especially true for bit depth adjustments, a very crucial part of routing. Some manufacturers have devised a through-the-table screw adjustment that lets you move things up and down, but this can still be hard to do if you’re in the middle of a project or cut.

This video shows a very innovative approach to this situation–a mechanized router lift built by workshop mastermind Bill Price. Using a car window motor and a few very innovative ideas, he’s got a system that allows for easy access adjustments on the fly. And he’s even incorporated a system that allows for automatic height measurement and adjustment based on the item you’re routing. Awesome.

Here are two other router table systems that incorporate novel solutions — the first, a highly configurable router table that uses simple folding components and a bungee strap for the elastic resistance needed. The video is mesmerizing in its lack of vocalized description, instead relying on a very effective demonstration of the table’s various setups, while set in what appears to be an abandoned industrial workshop somewhere in Russia.

The second is Matthias Wendel’s wooden-geared router table mechanism. Matthias, of the site woodgears.ca, builds some mind blowing projects entirely from wood (I’ll post about his homemade all-wood bandsaw soon). This lift, like all his projects, is super accurate and extremely useful.

The thought of building one of these for yourself can be a bit daunting; fortunately there are plenty of commercial options available (although usually without the innovations seen here — I suspect they’ll get added soon though). Check out this Bosch router table for something that is compact but affordable, and includes a wide range of options.

These two great books will also get you up to speed on routing and router tables: “Taunton’s Complete Guide to Routers” and “Bill Hylton’s Ultimate Guide to the Router Table

Succulent Planter Made From A Wooden Carpenter’s Toolbox

I’ve had a countertop of succulents that needed a permanent home for some time now, and had been hoping to put them in a wooden box with rustic charm. Last weekend I stopped at my local Orchard Supply for supplies and saw a cheap tool set that included a wooden box with the classic OSH logo on it. For $20, it included a hammer, flathead and phillips screw drivers, tape measure, small level, and kids-sized safety goggles. Handy stuff for a kitchen drawer, but I had other thoughts for small carpenter’s tool box.

I took it home, added a few scoops of potting soil, and repurposed it to hold my succulents in an easy-to-transport but cool-to-display way.

Succulents don’t require much water so I didn’t drill out the bottom, but if I determine it needs better draining, a couple rows of 1/8″ holes through the thin bottom wood should do the trick. I may also reinforce the stapled construction by tapping some holes and adding screws. And with hopes, the wood will age and darken nicely to give it that cool weathered look.

Want to do this too? Easily make your own tool box using plans available online, but if you’re short on time, you can get a pre-cut kit — just needs assembly.

With Respect to The Terrifying, Truck-Throwing Texas Tornado, Here’s a Video of a Moving Train Being Toppled By a Twister

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Earlier this week a batch of giant tornados criss-crossed the Dallas-Ft. Worth region, making news for the startling footage of 30,000 pound big rig trailers getting flung through the air like pieces of paper. Shocking photos and images, and a reminder of how intense the power of nature can be. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported.

As scary as the footage is, it’s not the first time large cargo transportation has been affected by a twister. I’ve previously posted the video at the top of this post, a frightening first-person-view shot of a moving freight train getting toppled by a passing tornado. Make sure to watch the end of it–just when you think it’s over, things look like they might just get worse. This occurred in January 2008, in Illinois. More details of the tornado are available here, and some cleanup pics here.

The video of the trailers getting flung by the high winds is posted below, as well as a raw video feed from the helicopter tracking the tornado and its damage. Who is crazy enough to fly a helicopter near a tornado? I wonder how well the special “tornado-proof” truck from Storm Chasers would fare in this situation.

 

Want to See a Half-Mile High Dust Devil on Mars?

Interesting video on Weather Channel’s website that shows an aerial image of a 1/2 mile tall, 100 foot wide dust devil sweeping the sandy martian plains. The resolution of the satellite image is pretty amazing, and allows researchers the ability to calculate the twister’s dimensions based on the length of the shadow it cast (and knowing the angle of the sun at the moment the shot was taken.)

Martian dust devils aren’t a new discovery — we’ve known about them for quite some time, and even have recorded images of them from the surface of the planet. One fascinating and unexpected element they’ve added to human exploration of that planet is periodically cleaning the dust from the solar panels of the martian rovers we’ve sent there.

If you want to find the height of a tall object on Earth and can measure the length of its shadow (easier around noon than in the early morning or late afternoon, when shadows stretch pretty long), you can use this height-by-shadow-length calculator to get the result (clicking the image will take you to the calculator page).

Six of the Geekiest RC Quadrotor and Flying Designs: “Back to the Future” Flying DeLorean, X-Wing Fighter, and More

RC quadrotors (or quadcopters) have so much awesome potential because they are basically stable, powerful floating platforms, capable of a variety flight-enabled projects. You can mount a camera on one to capture amazing aerial video, or create a menacing autonomous surveillance system. Or — on the far end of geekiness — you can dress one up in costume, and fly your nerdiest world of fandom through the sky for all to see, like these following guys have done:

“Back to the Future” flying DeLorean (check out the blue, glowing LED lights under the wheels):

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Q&A With Joey Hudy, 14 Year Old Maker of the White House Marshmallow Cannon

14 year old Joe Hudy has been having fun. From promoting science at Maker Faires to shooting marshmallows with the President at the White House, he’s the embodiment of STEM education effectively motivating a new generation about science and engineering, while showing how it can take them to some pretty cool places. Along the way, he’s tackled challenges and found passion and talent — his mother Julie describes the transformation with excitement and pride. “He’s gone from a shy boy with Asperger Syndrome to now a young man that wants to talk to everyone!”

People want to talk with Joe too — the coverage he’s received from his endearing interaction with President Obama at the White House Science Faire has gone global (links: whitehouse.gov, HuffingtonPost, Daily Mail, Make blog, Gizmodothe Atlantic, ABC News, Washington Post, the Examiner, Popular Science, New York Times, and more). He’s recently been a featured author on Instructables, and received a special note of commendation on his Adafruit skills badge page. And not only is Joe an aspiring engineer, he’s also demonstrating a healthy entrepreneurial spirit, selling electronics kits via his website and fundraising to get him to three different Maker Faires in 2012.

Joe took time from his schedule to answer a few questions about how he got to the White House, and what he’s building next.

When did you start building?  I only started really seriously to build things a year ago. I’ve made stuff in the past just for fun.

How did you get so motivated?  I met a really cool man named Jeff from Elenco Electronics. I got in contact with them when my mom called to see if they had any Snap Circuits. Jeff Coda was the one who answered the phone. He helped me by giving me a soldering iron, oscilloscope, kits to learn to solder, bread boards, electrical components so I could learn more about electronics. He’s helped with with questions I’ve had too. He’s really cool.

What are some of the things you’ve made so far?  I have made the air cannon, 3x3x3 Led Cube Arduino Shield, catapult, lazer light show, blinky lights. My favorite was the air cannon.

Obviously, it’s a huge honor to get invited to be part of the White House Science Fair. How did that came about? What were your feelings like leading up to and during the event?  I was invited to go to the White House by Make and Cognizant. Make asked me and Cognizant sponsored me. I had met Make at Maker Faires. The whole experience was fun and exciting. I was nervous when I was talking to the president. I got to see a lot of sights while in DC.

Post-accident Triathlon Training — First part of my series in Triathlete magazine

Late one night about a year and a half ago, I had a frustrating highway encounter with a big rig truck. Although, sadly, many others have fared worse in similar situations, it was still a sucky setback: three days in the hospital, a couple surgeries, and a few months to regain my strength.

The morning after the accident I gave myself a goal: I’d use it as a catalyst to finally train for and complete a triathlon. I didn’t want to ever feel held down by having an accident, and therefore strived for the exact opposite. Once able to move comfortably and push forward on my plan, I started discussing it with a friend at Triathlete magazine — who expressed interest in having me chronicle the journey for the publication. I agreed to do a three-part series, looking at the events leading to my decision to be a triathlete, the training experience, and then the race itself.

Triathlete helped make the training process easier by setting me up with some great gear and an amazing coach, Ian Murray, for which I’m extremely thankful — I highly recommend any first time (or even 31st time) triathlete to use a coach, it’s made such a big difference. At the point of my writing this, I’m just over two weeks away from the race. I’ll be competing in the Superseal Triathlon on March 18, in San Diego. An Olympic distance race, I have to swim 0.9 miles, bike 26 miles, and run 6.2 miles. Each of those distances is further than I’ve ever raced before, so the combination of all three consecutively will be pretty incredible.

Meanwhile, my first Triathlete segment hit the newsstands a few weeks ago, and became available online this week; check it out on the Triathlete site. And also check the fun video segment the magazine produced in conjunction with the article — more to come from that, too. Hope you enjoy.

 

Discovery channel casting for new show “Top Engineer”

For you engineers, tinkerers and makers with reality TV dreams — you’ve got until March 7th to submit yourself for a new Discovery show being produced by Pilgrim Studios —  the company that makes Dirty Jobs, American Choppers, and Ghost Hunters (among many others).

I have no connection with this show, so I can’t assist you in any way other than advising you to keep your energy up (general guideline for being on camera), and make sure your fly is zipped (general advice for life).

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DISCOVERY CHANNEL SEEKING AMERICA’S TOP INVENTORS, MACHINISTS AND ENGINEERS TO COMPETE FOR A HUGE GRAND PRIZE

Are you a designer who can build? Are you a machinist who can design?

The Discovery Channel is looking for America’s most creative and daring techies, machinists, inventors and engineers to design, build, and BLAST their way to a Grand Prize on their new competition TV show TOP ENGINEER.

A handful of lucky men and women will be chosen to take on exciting challenges from various engineering fields at the state-of-the-art WET design facilities (www.wetdesign.com) in California.

No, you don’t need to have an engineering degree to compete on this show, but you MUST be able to design, build, test and integrate an idea into a final product that WORKS. These will be fast-paced, hands-on, VISCERAL challenges! If your experience is strictly behind the keyboard, then this show is NOT for you.

We are looking for visual effects experts, accomplished home shop machinists, contractors and engineers with backgrounds in electrical, civil, structural or mechanical engineering.

If you have an outgoing personality and are ready to get your hands dirty for the chance to win a GRAND PRIZE and the title of TOP ENGINEER, then we want to hear from you.

APPLY TODAY!

Email TopEngineerCasting@gmail.com with your name, age, location, phone number, a recent photo and a brief explanation of why you are perfect for this competition show.

Deadline to submit is March 7, 2012

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